Seeing Stars? Here’s Why!

Have you ever seen stars or spots of color in your vision? Maybe you stood up, or laid down, and suddenly there are colors swimming across your vision. If you suffer from migraines or were (unfortunately) knocked on the head, you could also see these colors. This phenomenon is quite common and is called phosphene. It is an experience of seeing light where there is no light entering the eye. And this phenomenon is not a cause for concern or an eye care issue for adults or in children.

How does this occur? There are several ways to see light where no light exists. In order for us to see, our retina must be stimulated by light waves, which our brain then translates into an image. But, our retinas can also be stimulated physically, electrically, and magnetically.

Most of these phosphene events happen when our retinas are stimulated physically, such as when you sneeze, rub your eyes or close and put pressure on them. When these things occur, you are activating the cells in your retina and then your brain translates into a color signal. And since there isn’t actually light coming into your retina, your brain merely translates the stimulation into color spots or streams. Phosphenes can also occur when there is a fluctuation in your blood pressure, like what occurs when you are in a reclined position for some time and suddenly stand up. This creates a drop in blood pressure and a loss of oxygen in your retina. If you are pregnant and this occurs, it actually is a serious condition you should call your physician about immediately.

And lastly, if you are bumped on the head it can lead to a physical stimulation of your visual cortex to create these spots in your vision. Usually, phosphenes are not of any great concern. But if you are experiencing a sudden increase of flashes or spots it can be a sign of a detached retina and you should contact your family eye care professional.